Trains Suck, But Transit District Ridership Soars

It’s one bit of good news on the commuter front: Though Westporters suffer daily woes on Metro-North trains, many more folks ride Westport Transit District buses to board them.

Combined with after-school increases, the WTD projects a near 11% rise in riders this year. After a decade of dwindling numbers — both a cause and effect of funding and service cuts — that’s impressive news indeed.

From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, the WTD carried 63,000 riders. This year, it’s on track for 70,000. And that includes 3 weeks when Metro-North’s worst woes kept nearly everyone off the rails.

The ridership increases work out to 8.5% for fixed-route commuter buses, and 40% in after-school riders. One of the key after-school routes is to Earthplace, where several dozen students have internships.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

Jim Ross — chair of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee — ties much of the increase to the “huge efforts” of unpaid transit directors Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cedarbaum.

“They’ve single-handedly upped the WTD’s game by tirelessly working with state, town and business communities to raise awareness and support,” Ross says.

He also cites a “smart, cost-effective marketing effort” that includes internet and social media efforts, new route and schedule brochures, train station signage, and community outreach programs.

Today, for example, the WTD is handing out brochures — and free coffee — at Westport’s train stations.

The Westport bus shuttle map.

The Westport bus shuttle map.

Early next month, they’ll unveil a “transit info kiosk” at the Senior Center. It will contain brochures and information about all Westport transportation options, from WTD buses to shared-ride services and taxis.

“We haven’t reinvented the wheel,” Ross says. (It’s unclear whether his pun was intentional or not.)

“But this is a bit of proof that if we get information out to people, they realize there’s a need. This isn’t the Friends of the Library. It’s not a charity. It’s public transportation, which is as un-sexy as it gets. But it is a service. Citizens are showing that they want it.

“If town officials really commit to this — if they move from a discussion of ‘Should we have it?’ to ‘This is a town gem’ — we can really move forward.”

As budget season begins, the wheels on Westport’s bus service are clearly on a roll.

8 responses to “Trains Suck, But Transit District Ridership Soars

  1. Anyone know how routes a day this service has? Or how many buses a day they use?

  2. The transit district is a terrific asset for Westport, and Jennifer and Gene deserve our thanks for working so hard to make it grow. When Earthplace came to them last fall requesting a route change so that children from Saugatuck and King’s Highway could ride the bus to our after school programming, they immediately saw the possibilities. And with the success of our initial effort, we hope to expand the service next fall to include all our elementary schools, a win-win for everyone.

  3. You will not like this, but an increase of 7,000 riders over a year could equate to 2 more riders a day.

    On a very conservative basis, if there are 10 routes or trips, than all this so called increase equals 2 riders more a day. Do the math.

    Law of large numbers tend to mask what the daily ridership could be. Not that this system is not helpful, but the opportunity to do much better is there.

    • Hey, Bart! I agree with you that we can do more to increase ridership (starting with a Town Transit Department and a paid Town Transit Director) and though the increase may be slight to you, it does reflect a statistically significant shift from the persistent declines over the past 10 years. And, to be fair, the Transit Directors have dedicated hundreds of unpaid hours to lay the foundations on which ridership growth can start to rebound. We owe them our gratitude.

      • Jim. Thanks for your response to my commoner. I have to say I do not find a potential maximum increase of 1% statistically important. On a very cursory approach we have few riders compared to the amount of people in town.

        Now I understand that there is a need. I am not debating it. But having the town spend anymore money to form a department or new job, at this point, hard to justify. At some point we have to realize many in Town drive their own cars. No matter what someone tries to do, this might be the end result. Dan Woog posts lots of nice cars in some of his posts with parking space issues.

        So maybe this is all we will get and we accept the existing costs. But with the issue at the Board of Ed with medical insurance and higher town budget, do we want to raise taxes even more?

        Not sure given the results could be no gain at all.

  4. I use the bus on occasion. Recently, I used it to pick up my car at the Honda dealership.

    I asked the first bus at Greens Farms, “do you stop at Maple and the Post Road?” No. The other bus. I asked the other bus, “do you stop at Maple and the Post Road?” Get on.

    It would be nice if the drivers knew their routes. Eventually, I got off at Staples High School, walking distance from home; and my wife drove me to pick up the car.

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